Merhi & Buller star in Spa curtain-closer The majestic Spa-Francorchamps circuit provided another superb showcase for international Formula 3 racing today as the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 and the FIA International Formula 3 protagonists went head to head in a gripping finale to a great weekend of motorsport in Belgium.
Prema Powerteam's Roberto Merhi repeated his superb form of yesterday to lead the 40-minute epic from pole position to checkered flag, but the undoubted star of the show was Ulsterman Will Buller, who battled up the order to third place overall behind Merhi and Marco Wittmann to claim top British F3 honors.
Coming hot on the heels of the Fortec Motorsport man’s British F3 wins at Paul Ricard a fortnight ago and yesterday at Spa, today’s result propels Buller to championship second - equal on points with Carlos Huertas - and underlines his ‘top Brit’ ranking.
The day’s other big winner was championship leader Felipe Nasr, whose brave charge from 20th on the grid - the result of a wrong tire choice in yesterday’s tricky mixed track conditions during qualifying - up to seventh overall, and second British F3 man, bagged the Brazilian yet more championship points.
Nasr’s points advantage over Buller and Huertas is now 114 points, and if Felipe can maintain that gap to the conclusion of the Rockingham meeting in early September, the British F3 Champion’s crown will be his.
Merhi’s dominance was complete, the Spaniard making a lightning getaway from the pole, despite a track surface made slippery by earlier rain, to lead the field into La Source. By the first lap’s end he was 2.3s clear and - just like yesterday - he proceeded to increase his advantage with each lap. By the end of the 17th he was 23 seconds in front.
“It was really good today,” said the Mercedes-powered driver. “I started from the pole and it was a bit wet on my start position but I was able to do a really good start to lead and then I could focus on making a really big gap to the others. My car was really good today and I was able to take it easy. It’s great to be at Spa and to enjoy the track.”
Wittmann’s pursuit was relentless but the German Signature driver could not compete. “I didn’t have the pace of Roberto; he was really quick, especially in sector two,” said Marco. “For the moment we really don’t know why he was so quick compared with everyone else.”
Marko Asmer chased Merhi and Wittmann initially for the Double R team but slipped into the clutches of Belgium’s Laurens Vanthoor on the fifth lap and was then demoted to fifth next time around by Buller. Will then set about Vanthoor and nipped past him at Les Combes on lap 10 to secure third.
Buller was delighted by his third British F3 top-placing in two weekends: “It’s been a perfect weekend really: two wins and a fourth. Our pace has been strong throughout and in the last race we were getting closer and closer to the Invitation class guys. I’m so delighted, and I just want to thank Team UK and the whole of Fortec; they work so hard for me and give me the best car at all times. They’ve done a great job.” Will’s stellar performance earned him the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend trophy for the second meeting in succession.
Vanthoor held on to fourth at the line, followed home by Italy’s Raffaele Marciello and Asmer. Next up - the British F3 runner-up - was Nasr, whose progress from near the back of the grid was as brave as it was exciting. Felipe enjoyed a massive tussle with his Carlin team-mate Jack Harvey for several laps, finding a way past on the Kemmel straight for seventh overall two laps from the end.
“It was a good race for me,” said Felipe. “It made the weekend. I finished in the points, which was the main aim after our bad qualifying. It wasn’t easy to do from the back of the grid, a pretty difficult race. The championship is getting closer now. maybe at Rockingham, a track I really like; it would be very special for me to win a race there and also if possible to take the title.”
Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Huertas followed Nasr past Harvey to cross the line eighth and ninth respectively, with Harvey hanging on to 10th ahead of Lucas Foresti and Jazeman Jaafar.
Kotaro Sakurai claimed his third Rookie class win of the weekend for Hitech, and his ninth of the season. “It was a really difficult decision on tires, but slicks worked well for me. It’s a good result for Hitech and really motivational for me. I love Spa now,” he said.
There were a number of early-race incidents and excursions: Hannes van Asseldonk and SVR’s Hywel Lloyd both fell by the wayside on the opening lap, the latter after contact with Yann Cunha. They were joined in retirement by Double R’s Pipo Derani and Signature’s Carlos Munoz, who collided.
British Formula 3 enjoys the headlining support of Cooper Tires and is additionally backed by Sunoco Racing Fuels, Anglo American Oil Company and OAMPS.
Provisional results Championship & Invitation classes
1 INV Robert MERHI / ESP, Prema Dallara-Mercedes 38m 06.645s / 116.51mph
2 INV Marco WITTMANN / GER, Signature Dallara-VW +23.298s
3 INT William BULLER /GBR, Fortec Dallara-Mercedes +25.355s
4 INV Laurens VANTHOOR / BEL, Signature Dallara-VW +27.203s
5 INV Raffaele MARCIELLO / ITA, Prema Dallara-Mercedes +28.451s
6 INV Marko ASMER / EST, Double R Dallara-Mercedes +32.708s
7 INT Felipe NASR / BRA, Carlin Dallara-VW +34.110s
8 INT Kevin MAGNUSSEN / DEN, Carlin Dallara-VW +35.399s
9 INT Carlos HUERTAS / COL, Carlin Dallara-VW +36.663s
10 INT Jack HARVEY / GBR, Carlin Dallara-VW +38.405s
11 INT Lucas FORESTI / BRA, Fortec Dallara-Mercedes +38.881s
12 INT Jazeman JAAFAR / MAS, Carlin Dallara-VW +39.279s
13 INV Daniel ABT / GER, Signature Dallara-VW +47.520s
14 INT Rupert SVENDSEN-COOK / GBR, Carlin Dallara-VW +50.638s
15 INT Scott PYE / AUS, Double R Dallara-Mercedes +53.164s
16 INT Pietro FANTIN / BRA, Hitech Dallara-VW +57.237s etc
1 Kotaro SAKURAI / JPN, Hitech Dallara-Mugen Honda +1m 42.373s
Fastest laps Merhi 2m 13.738s / 117.13mph & Nasr 2m 14.728s / 116.32mph
Full timesheets http://bit.ly/oJQaiF
Provisional championship standings
1 Nasr 267 points; 2= Buller & Huertas 153; 4 Magnussen 144; 5 Foresti 140; 6 Jaafar 134; 7 Svendsen-Cook 128; 8 Harvey 74; 9 Fantin 65; 10 Harry Tincknell / GBR 64 etc
1 Sakurai 267; 2 Bart Hylkema / NED 214.
FIA International Trophy
1 Merhi 118; 2 Wittmann 51; 3 Daniel Juncadella / ESP 47 etc